Breakers' 'Chief' Alex won't break - hits back
Breakers big man Alex Pledger summed it up perfectly. After an embarrassing season-opener he had two choices - "go sit in a corner and cry" or he could be a man and do something about it.
Luckily for the back-to-back Australian NBL champions, and also for the new starting centre for the North Shore-based club, Pledger chose the former and manned up big time.
The result was a confidence-restoring 73-59 victory over the Adelaide 36ers in front of 6625 fans at Vector Arena on Friday night.
The win followed week one's walloping from the Perth Wildcats. Most importantly it re-established the defensive intensity, teamwork and tough-mindedness that had been a bedrock of the last two championship seasons.
The offence remains a work in progress for the Breakers who trailed 46-47 after three quarters following a 10-point third period. But they rode home on a 27-12 final term when their pressure defence kick-started their scoring, and a 49-32 rebounding edge.
Though classy import point guard Cedric Jackson was the Breakers' leading contributor with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, including another good night from three-point land where he went three from four, it was Pledger who was the round's big mover.
Last week against Perth he had failed to grab a rebound in a tick under 20 minutes on court - a feat coach Andrej Lemanis later branded "unacceptable".
On Friday Pledger went seven-of-10 from the field en route to 15 points, 10 boards and three big blocks. That was more like it!
"I didn't make the greatest of starts to the post-Gary Wilkinson era, as most people are calling it," said Pledger.
"Frankly, getting zero rebounds last week was embarrassing. When you're a seven-footer and a starter that is unacceptable.
"I copped a lot of deserved criticism over the week from various people. You can either go sit in the corner and have a little cry or you can use it to motivate you.
"The position I'm in being a starter this year I can't afford to sit in a corner and have a cry. I used it to help me play better."
Lemanis said it had been an important response from a Tall Black pillar the club is pinning a lot of faith in. They'd cut fan favourite and clutch shooter Wilkinson free to allow Pledger to take on greater responsibilities.
"Certainly Chief was a little grumpy about last week's effort," said Lemanis.
"He came out and turned it round and gave us what we expect from him. When Chief's playing well he's really active at the defensive end, and you notice the difference he makes. He's such a big body, is athletic and agile and can really influence penetration to the rim.
"He can anchor the defence when he's doing those sort of things, and that really helps us."
But perhaps it took Adelaide coach Marty Clarke to really cut to the chase around Pledger's game-changing feats this week.
"I always expect Alex to be good - he's a good player, young and athletic for a big guy. He gets his feet underneath him, he's big and strong and hard to keep away from the basket.
"I think Alex's issues are only with himself which is typical with a big fellow. When he gains that belief to be able to do it we'll bring the chainsaw because that will be the only way to stop him. He's that good."
Clarke feared this kind of kickback from the Breakers' disappointing season opening.
"We knew it would happen. You don't win two championships in a row and get beat by 20 points at home on opening night and not do something about it.
"We did a good job of hanging in there for a long time, but we just couldn't absorb the pressure," Clarke said.
Or Pledger. Big boys don't cry - they get better.
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